Rich Pickings for the Small and Beautiful

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

ImageIt may by my father’s Communist-leaning sympathies – power to the people and all that – but I hate to see job losses and immediately imagine the stress it may cause to individuals’ families. Job losses are inevitable as companies will fail, and where they are dealt with openly it creates great disappointment.

What makes me angry, however, is when they are dealt with by stealth and are often in fact avoidable. And we are seeing this at the moment in publishing, and in particular through the increasing number of mergers and acquisitions.

Here in the UK, the acquisition of Constable & Robinson is leading to virtually all of its workforce being let go, Quercus will be next having been bought and, more globally, the Penguin Random House merger is starting to leak hundreds of jobs. I understand business is business, but it is the cloudy nature, the hidden words, the political answers that enrage. Job losses should never be handled by PR departments.

Additionally, in many cases they are avoidable – jobs can be a condition of any merger or acquisition agreement. Yes, the leading party may not want the clause, but it comes down to how hard you fight and what you fight for: the jobs of those that have created value or the value to be taken from the deal?

However, this article is not intended to be one of doom and gloom. The point I wanted to make was that an interesting trend is happening – due to the above but also generally a large number of very skilled workers are moving from their conglomerate employers to smaller companies.

We have seen this first-hand at IPR License and our publishing businesses. Our IPR team in particular has doubled in size over the last two months alone, and the majority of the best applicants are working at large publishing houses. We have recently made three recruitments from major publishers and I don’t expect it to end there.

Going further, at the London Book Fair, and probably aided by our recent recruitment drive, I was approached with incredible regularity by people in between meetings asking if any further vacancies are coming up. It immediately became clear that something quite dramatic is happening here.

This piece is also not intended to be critical of the large publishers; they play an essential role in the market, produce some fantastic work and in particular I have been very impressed with Penguin Random House’s initiatives since the merger was finally embedded. What it does show is that, as we head into a boutique market model, the independent scene is an amazing place to be.

As out of touch as James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstones, was to recently say that “the big guys will continue to take risks, but it is probably becoming harder for the small and medium sized guys to do that,” Stephen Page, CEO at Faber, was correct in saying in a completely unrelated context: “Small publishers have innovated far more.”

Those with ambition and drive in publishing are now looking out their windows, or into their computer screens, and seeing the best independent companies taking risks and innovating quickly and cleverly, as they have to do to survive. These key people have an inborn desire to succeed, and so it is only natural they want to move away from the required structure of larger companies and into the movable, continual evolution of smaller ones.

And, as in the case of IPR License, it is not just publisher to publisher. Entrepreneurial start-ups and tech companies are not now somewhere across the road – they are part of the building, accepted as an integral part of the industry. Key workers are not leaving the industry to work for a start-up – they are moving into and affecting the hub of industry evolution.

In summary, job losses particularly where avoidable will always make me enraged, and I think we have an obligation in the industry to shine a light where it’s happening. But there is comfort in an exciting migration. Just an in music and art where in my lifetime I have seen a sudden independent scene reinvigorate a weary market, a very exciting trend is starting to emerge in publishing. Not only can small can mean creative, new and magnificent, but it is where the making of history starts.

Happy to hear your comments as always – @Tom_Chalmers

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Tom Chalmers

About Tom Chalmers

Tom Chalmers is the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he has founded. He started his first company in 2005 when aged 25, Legend Press, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. Chalmers subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing, and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections, respectively. He also founded IPR License in 2012, a global rights licensing platform, which he sold in 2016. He has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. He also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

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